Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg might have been dreading his appearance in front of the US congress over the recent allegations of data leaks. But that will feel like an easy ride, compared with the wrath of the hyper energetic MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis (pictured).
Lewis, the consumer champion who made millions of pounds from selling his site to price comparison company MoneySupermarket, launched legal proceedings against the social network last week.
His case centres on the fact financial scams used his image in adverts on Facebook, in an attempt to get people to part with their money. According to a blog post from Lewis, Facebook published 50 such adverts last year, mostly promoting high-risk binary option trading and cryptocurrencies.
Social networks have become a wild west for advertisers, who now have control of and access to a lot of our personal data. Because of my job, I receive a lot of targeted advertising about investments via social sites and elsewhere. I have often seen ads for property bonds, guaranteed returns and, of course, cryptocurrencies.
Take this example from my Google email account: ‘7.5% simple interest p.a. – earn 9% cumulative yield on a five-year FC. Completely repatriable income. T&Cs apply.’ I do not really know what any of that means, although it is good to know terms and conditions apply.
The product itself is an investment bond in India, advertised as being connected to a major bank. In the advert I am told to ‘start palnning [sic] now’, which makes me think it is not quite the slick product it is made out to be.
Or take the one that says Ethereum, a cryptocurrency that has ridden on the coattails of the bitcoin boom, will ‘climb 49,000%’. Get me invested now!
This says nothing of the way Google Ads will promote companies when you search for a particular term. Try pension transfer advice, for example. The top results will be a myriad of firms or online introducers that promise to find an adviser.
Some are probably good firms, while some are dubious. But there is no way of knowing without already being involved in the advice market.
The problem is, like it or not, we now significantly engage with the world through platforms such as Facebook and Google.
Whether you believe this has changed the way democracy works, as some have recently claimed (I am sceptical either the Brexit or Trump vote resulted from social media manipulation), it has allowed a business model to emerge. This model does not discriminate when it comes to who accesses data, nor check anything it promotes.
This can have catastrophic effects when it comes to investments. As Lewis wrote in his blog, when people lose more than £100,000 from such scams, the internet giants need to accept responsibility.
They are publishers, and cannot shirk the responsibilities that come with that role. Moreover, they cannot ignore the fact many people rely on them to answer their questions.
In parliament last month the government finally got round to pushing a cold calling ban further. It needs to look at the internet as well.
Fake news dominates the headlines. But the effect of fake investments does more immediate and tangible harm.